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Gadhafi’s Forces Are Top Target for Allied Strikes in Libya; Length of Military Effort Remains Unclear

Updated 4:45 p.m. ET |

During a press conference in Chile Monday, President Obama took new questions on the military action in Libya, saying that while it has always been U.S. policy that Gadhafi “needs to go,” U.S. military action is limited to the U.N. mandate.

Updated 3:00 p.m. ET |

In an interview with the NewsHour’s Dan Sagalyn, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Dutch Remkes, said he believed the first two nights of the operation in Libya had gone “very well” in efforts to keep Gadhafi’s air force out of the sky and helped protect Libyan civilians.

Remkes said the international coalition will want to ensure that that Gadhafi’s command and control operations are taken out, in order to prevent communications with his forces battling rebels in Eastern Libya.

Regarding whether the U.S. could really relinquish command of the operation to allies in the near future, Remkes said his experience with the British and French military leads him to believe that they are very capable of taking control. Rather than the operation being run by committee, he foresees one nation taking the lead.

The next few days of the operation will likely be a “fluid situation,” Remkes said, as the world awaits the next moves by the rebels and Gadhafi.

Updated 2:30 p.m. ET |

Mila Sanina on our foreign affairs desk received this update from Mohamed Benrasali, a spokesman for the opposition movement, on the situation in Misrata:

“It is really getting hard — no water, no electricity and no phones for at least two weeks now. Although we are grateful and relieved by international community action, we hope that they go all the way and rid the world of this tyrant.”

The New York Times’ Lede blog has collected videos posted to YouTube that claim to show the aftermath of fighting in Misrata.

Updated 2:15 p.m. ET with video | The military coalition imposing the no-fly zone in Libya flew 70 to 80 sorties Monday, with non-U.S. forces flying more than half of them, U.S. Gen. Carter F. Ham, the head of U.S. Africa Command, told reporters in an operational briefing.

Ham also said that U.S. and European forces are not aiming to “completely destroy” Gadhafi’s military, but rather to target those defying a U.N. resolution.

In other developments, the U.N. Security Council will meet privately at 3 p.m. ET Monday to discuss Libya’s accusations about the international military intervention.

Posted 9:30 a.m. ET | U.S. and European forces continued their campaign of air attacks on military installations and forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, while a top French official predicted Monday that the intervention could last “awhile.”

A barrage of cruise missile and air strikes have targeted Libyan air defenses and Gadhafi ground troops pressing in on areas held by rebel fighters. Military operations began Saturday to enforce a U.N.-backed no-fly zone enacted in response to Gadhafi’s attacks on civilians protesting his rule.

“We judge these strikes to have been very effective in degrading the regime’s air defense capability, to include their ability to launch many of their SA-5s — their long range missiles — their SA-3s and SA-2s,” Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney told reporters during a Pentagon news conference.

A cruise missile also blasted a building in Gadhafi’s residential compound Sunday, near his iconic tent. Gadhafi’s location is not known, and no casualties have been reported from the explosion.

French presidential adviser Henri Guaino told reporters that the allied efforts could last “awhile yet,” — seeming to to reflect Gadhafi’s promise Sunday of a “long war” with his adversaries. France was among the first to launch military jets in the Libyan intervention.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that the U.S. could hand off the lead of the military effort to a coalition lead by France, NATO and Britain “within a matter of days.”

Late Sunday, however, NATO’s top decision-making body failed to agree on a plan to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya, although it did approve a military plan to implement a U.N. arms embargo, the AP reported.

Here are more of the latest details on Libya this Monday morning:

> From the AP: “Gortney, staff director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference there is no evidence civilians in Libya have been harmed in the air assault, code named Odyssey Dawn. Gortney also said no allied planes have been lost and all pilots have returned safely from missions that used stealth B-2 bombers, jet fighters, more than 120 Tomahawk cruise missiles and other high-tech weapons.”

From the New York Times: “Rebel fighters trying to retake the eastern town of Ajdabiya appeared to have fallen back to a position around 12 miles to the north on the road to Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital. At least eight rebels were killed as they tried to advance toward Ajdabiya on Monday, cut down by tank and missile fire from loyalist troops dug in on the approaches to the town.”

From NPR: “Gadhafi loyalists have been sleeping and partying at Bab Al Azizia, the downtown compound, since the attacks began, to show support for their leader. The base has long been a symbol of Gadhafi’s defiance and ability to survive. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan ordered airstrikes here, reportedly killing one of Gadhafi’s daughters. There’s still a statue here — a large golden fist crushing the model of a U.S. fighter jet.”

From the Guardian: “Western leaders have been trying to hold together the shaky coalition with Arab states over the military action against Libya. David Cameron, the British prime minsiter, has spoken to the secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, who earlier expressed concern about civilian casualties. A spokesman for Cameron said the pair were ‘agreed that the protection of civilians was paramount’.”

From Spiegel Online: “So far, the NATO alliance has been unable to reach an agreement on participation in the military implementation of the no-fly zone. Turkey is resisting the measure and is calling for a new review of other possible measures the alliance could take in Libya. Ankara has also called for an immediate Western cease-fire, with Turkish officials calling on NATO to give greater consideration in its discussions to the possibility of civilian deaths, a NATO diplomat told the news agency AFP under the condition of anonymity. Ankara has rejected any NATO intervention against Libya, including the implementation of a no-fly zone.”

Russia’s prime minister criticized the U.N. resolution allowing international use of force in Libya, saying it reminds him of the “medieval calls for crusades.”

Meanwhile, four New York Times journalists who have been held in Libya have been released to Turkey’s ambassador in Tripoli.

The journalists are reporter Anthony Shadid; photographers Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario; and a reporter and videographer, Stephen Farrell.

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